Category Archives: Coverage Critiques

From Brexit to Trump

Except for a recent Rutgers University study* finding most British newspapers tended to advocate the United Kingdom exit the European Union, Gateway Journalism Review has found little if any research indicating how the media played the Brexit story.

While no social science data were apparently collected on the American media’s coverage of this issue, anecdotal evidence points to a reverse trend in the U.S., where the media seemed to lean toward coverage encouraging Britain to remain in the UK. And the American media have not been shy about examining their own coverage.

But regardless of media coverage, most political scientists in Britain, while expecting the final ballot to be close, were surprised the “Leavers” outpolled the “Remainers,” and that they did so by nearly four percentage points – 51.9 to 48.1 percent. Since then, much Monday-night quarterbacking and speculation have occurred, laying blaming “Leave” voting on everything from EU emigration policies to a rural-urban divide to voters’ age to weather in London on voting day to a growing nationalist tendency of the British population, especially the English.

And “Leavers” have been likened to Donald Trump supporters on the other side of The Pond. Much Trump coverage in recent days has centered on the candidate’s money problems, with Hillary Clinton now raising many times more cash than the New York billionaire. Trump currently is being portrayed as not only out of touch with voters, but also nearly out of cash and increasingly, it seems, being seen as an increasing long-shot, or at the very least being a candidate hard-pressed to beat Clinton come November.

But might there be a Brexit/Trump similarity the U.S. media are not yet seeing? An unprecedented number of British voters turned out to cast pro-Brexit votes. Many of these voters were older, whiter, less educated and feeling marginalized in the modern world and longing for the good old days when the Union Jack flew proudly around the world and the sun never set on the British empire.

Might there be a similar strain of U.S. voters waiting to vote in November? Might the U.S. media be underestimating the size and voice of older, whiter, less educated voters on this side of The Pond who long to “make America great again” — for a return to the 1950s? Might Donald Trump surprisingly pull the nationalist card from the deck, trumping Clinton, learned political scientists and a disbelieving media?

* Study confirms that the national press is biased in favour of Brexit

Perceived lack of credibility didn’t stop African-Americans from following Ferguson news

Newsrooms in this country have known for nearly half a century that coverage of African-American communities needs fixing. In 1968, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission, argued that newsrooms should provide more inclusive reporting on racial issues in response to a summer of nationwide inner-city social disorder the summer before. Last year, the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson provided ample opportunity to see whether the news media had improved its newsgathering sensitivity. According to many observers, it came up short.

In a dozen in-depth interviews I conducted for research at the University of Texas-Austin, African-American respondents said that Ferguson news coverage in the wake of the shooting once again did nothing to improve credibility or build better relationships with diverse communities.

“In society, trust is not given at the drop of a hat,” a 34-year-old a real estate developer in Chicago told the paper’s author. “So how could media assume a single media performance during a single news event is strong enough to significantly affect trust? The Michael Brown story didn’t affect the way I felt, feel, or will feel about the media.”

This response should serve as a crucial and, to be sure, urgent warning to journalists. Researchers have shown that trust in the media can lead to more time spent following the news. And the more someone follows the news, the more likely one will be engaged in the democratic process. So if African Americans don’t trust the news, they might be further disenfranchised from the democratic process, the consequences of which impact the health of a plural social experience.

During this research, respondents suggested ways for the news media to improve credibility.

1. Stick to the truth. Most interviewees suggested that the news media could build better trust by avoiding reports of unconfirmed rumors and innuendo.

2. Further diversify newsrooms. The news media should hire more African-American journalists, especially to cover predominantly African-American communities.

3. Offer diversity training. A 39-year-old Ferguson racial justice worker explained that covering different social groups is not intuitive. Reporters need to be educated on the nuances found in varying communities. This, she said, will teach reporters to “ask the questions in an empathetic and culturally sensitive way.”

4. Offer more positive stories. The news media too often reside in places of tragedy and disruption. Those stories must be covered to an extent, but room should be made for a richer tapestry of story themes. “The little moments, however sad, inspiring, basic, triumphant, regretful or nostalgic, hit home to humans,” a Chicago accountant said. “Of New York, and of the U.S., and of the world. It’s the basic thing that connects us all, and I think highlighting that could help bridge some gaps.”

5. Don’t obsess over race. One of the more unexpected responses from interviewees was the suggestion that race can also be a distraction to responsible news coverage. A St. Louis graduate student said the news media fumbled a bigger story in Ferguson, one of abusive and unreasonable force by police officers. “The major issue should have been that an officer gunned down an unarmed man in the streets. Race aside, this should be the larger issue. Was it just, and how can we prevent it from happening? Do we need to reevaluate our system of law enforcement?”

The study’s participants also gave suggestions on how the news media could improve relationships between press and community.

1. Focus on people—not stories. During major news events, reporters can tend to sacrifice basic moments of humanity in service to scoops. A Ferguson resident said, “Acknowledge and speak to the people in the community. In African-American communities, we say ‘hi’ to each other, we make eye contact and acknowledge one another. There were several times when I saw the media ignore and look away from the people looking at them. Sometimes they looked terrified and afraid.”

2. Advocate for communities. While many news observers have said that advocacy is not the typical role of mainstream news media outlets, some respondents said it should be. “You want to improve this broken relationship?” a Texas pharmacy representative asked. “Then defend more, exploit less. Allow people to see there is more to African-American life than [crime, drugs, and gangs]. Quit showing us in a negative light.”

3. Remember the Youth. The news media has a responsibility to explain how news events might affect the youth as well as adults. How, for instance, would the Ferguson story change classroom environments? How were young people responding to or participating in the social demonstrations?

4. It’s the Little Things. At least one respondent suggested that news reporters could participate in additional productive ways. “Bring water, or food, or something to show that you are part of the community and that you care,” one study participant said.

Respondents in this study said they wanted more out of the news. Of course, whether the news media take their advice remains to be seen. But even though the news media’s coverage didn’t help build credibility during the Michael Brown coverage, the good news is that African-American respondents still followed the news and will continue to do so going forward. They felt a sense of civic and social responsibility, they said. It stands to reason, then, that any efforts to improve media trust and build better relationships in their communities can—and must—go a long way in reporting people of color in more responsible and productive ways.

In fact, while interviewees said that the news media in Ferguson might not have always been outwardly empathetic to the African-American community’s plight, at least one Ferguson respondent was empathetic about the work those reporters were doing. “They’re kind of brave and courageous for being in some of these stories that they go in,” one interviewee said. “And me myself? I wouldn’t do it.”

Author’s note: Shane M. Graber, a doctoral student of journalism at the University of Texas-Austin, authored the research from which this article is taken. The paper, “Defend More, Exploit Less: African Americans on Media Trust and News Use After Ferguson,” was presented at the 2015 AEJMC conference in San Francisco.

 

One year later: Media ignore their Ferguson failures

Editor’s Note: This is the publisher’s column from the current print edition of GJR.

 

The Justice Department’s twin reports on Ferguson this March raised two disturbing questions about the media:

• How did so many news organizations fail for so long to realize that “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” was a myth?

• How did so many news organizations fail for so many years to uncover deeply unconstitutional police and court practices?

One would hope those questions would prompt soul-searching. For the most part, they haven’t. The national media are on to the next police shooting with no sign of introspection. False or misleading stories from last summer remain online uncorrected. Social media also barrel ahead, clinging to preconceived ideologies in a cyber-world that is often fact free.

Here are egregious media failures:

• National and local media fell for “eyewitnesses” who claimed to have seen Officer Darren Wilson shoot a surrendering Michael Brown. Many “witnesses” lied or fabricated stories.

• CNN irresponsibly broadcast “exclusive” video taken during “the final moments of the shooting” showing two white construction workers, one gesturing how Brown had his hands up. Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin called it evidence of a “a cold-blooded murder.” But the video wasn’t from the time of the shooting and the construction workers’ stories were full of holes.

• Local media – KTVI and the Post-Dispatch – gave the construction workers story big play. But they didn’t make clear that one of the workers incorrectly claimed three officers were at the scene. Both workers later admitted they had not actually seen Brown fall because the corner of a building obstructed their view. Nor did any other witness confirm the workers’ claims that Brown repeatedly screamed, “OK. OK. OK.”  Those are the reasons the FBI discounted their statements.

• MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Lawrence O’Donnell threw fuel on the fire day after day with biased reporting. O’Donnell ranted about St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch changing the legal instructions during the grand jury, but his reports were full of errors.

• The New York Times committed journalistic malpractice by naming the street that Wilson lived on and then refusing to admit its mistake. KSDK did it too but apologized.

• Fox misreported that Brown had broken Wilson’s eye socket.

• Anonymous, the scary and inept anarchists, misidentified the police shooter and the shooter’s police department.

• The New York Times portrayed Ferguson as part of a segregated “Circle of Rage” around St. Louis, when Ferguson is actually one of the most residentially integrated places in St. Louis.

• ProPublica sliced and diced statistics in a misleading way that exaggerated how much more likely it was for a young African-American to be killed by police.

*****

Ferguson was America’s Arab Spring for social media. For that reason, their failures are as important as the mainstream media’s.

A story in the May 10 New York Times magazine uncritically romanticized the tweeters and live-streamers who made a name for themselves. It called Bassem Masri, “perhaps Ferguson’s most famous live-streamer.” Masri is the person whose live-streaming videos include loud streams of invective and hate directed at police. Masri isn’t a citizen journalist but a polemicist linking Ferguson and anti-Israeli protesters.

The Times’ piece also told how DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie, two active bloggers, joined forces with Justin Hansford, a law professor at Saint Louis University, to critique the mainstream press in its “This Is the Movement” newsletter.

But the newsletter isn’t really media criticism. It’s a movement newsletter with headlines like: “This Is NOT St. Louis County, Missouri Prosecutor Robert McCulloch First ‘Racist Rodeo.’”

Not only have the media failed to critique themselves, they have gone right ahead making the same mistakes.

During the police unrest in Baltimore May 4, Fox’s Mike Tobin reported seeing an officer shoot a black man in the back. McClatchy war correspondent Hannah Allam tweeted, ‘We’ll be back under martial law tonight!’ EMTs take body away on stretcher.” Livestream’s “citizen journalist” barked out a tweet on the shooting. The reports were false.

****

Why did the press miss deeper stories of unconstitutional police and court practices? Sometimes the biggest stories are right in front of a reporter’s face but involve conditions that are taken for granted. That’s the case with the municipal court system in North St. Louis County. It took the ArchCity Defenders and allied law professors to show that procedures fair in form devastated the lives of poor, blacks who ended up in modern debtors’ prison.

The media did a good job of publicizing municipal court abuses. The one “Ferguson” reform emerging from the Missouri legislature limits how much traffic money each town can collect. But the press often forces reforms into a right-or-wrong framework, and it did with this story.

The new caps on municipal revenue hit the small predominantly black communities the hardest, with little impact in Ferguson. This take did not fit conveniently into the established media narrative and was mostly ignored in stories trumpeting the legislation as a “Ferguson reform.”

***

A personal note on former colleagues: The Post-Dispatch photo staff richly deserved the Pulitzer Prize it won for its brave, insightful, moving Ferguson photography. Tony Messenger and Kevin Horrigan, the P-D’s editorial editor and deputy, also deserved to be finalists for editorials that “brought insight and context to the national tragedy of Ferguson, MO, without losing sight of the community’s needs.”

St. Louisans sometimes don’t appreciate what a treasure they have had in the P-D editorial page as its Pulitzer commended work warned over the decades of Hitler, Vietnam, concealed weapons, civil liberties abuses and Missouri’s war on the Medicaid poor. It’s an editorial record with few peers.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that both construction workers claimed there were three officers at the scene. That claim was made by the worker interviewed by KTVI; the person interviewed by the Post-Dispatch did not mention multiple officers. Jeremy Kohler, the Post-Dispatch reporter, wrote in an email that he considered the worker he interviewed “credible at the time and I still do.”

The ‘best’ and ‘worst’ of KTVI Tim Horton’s coverage

St. Louis television viewers watching KTVI Channel 2 were recently given two sharply different versions of the opening of the area’s first full-sized Tim Horton’s in the St. Louis suburb of Maplewood.

Covering the opening of the first location of the chain is appropriate, but in terms of good journalism, Channel 2 provided “the best of times” and the “worst of times” with its coverage.

Horton’s is a Canadian chain that sells coffee and pastries and other food items. Staking a St. Louis area foothold with its first store at 7468 Manchester Road in Maplewood was a legitimate news story.

On the night of June 22, during the 9 p.m. newscast, Channel 2 anchor Mandy Murphey did a solid story on the event. She asked questions about Horton’s business strategy and how the company planned to compete against organizations like the St. Louis Bread Company. Murphey offered a thorough report.

But a day later, Channel 2’s Lisa Hart offered what seemed to be a commercial for Horton’s during the 11 a.m. newscast. Her first question to the Tim Horton’s representative Tina Bryan was “What makes Tim Horton’s so great?” Journalism?  No. There are many people who don’t think it is such a great brand at all. But the softball question let Bryan do a full-blown commercial.

Bryan took advantage of Hart’s questions with lines like: “There are a lot of things that make Tim Horton’s special,” and “We have such a wide breadth of menu items.”

At one point, Hart said that she loved the donut she was eating. Hart acted more like a Tim Horton’s cheerleader than a reporter. She said at another point, “You’ve got everything. It’s so great.”

While she did ask about Horton’s future plans (opening 40 stores in the St. Louis area), she failed to follow up with any questions of depth or corporate strategy such as “Why St. Louis?” or “Why 40 locations?” There were no questions posed about other competition in the marketplace from outlets like Dunkin Donuts or Starbuck’s.

Hart could have asked questions about obesity and the calorie-heavy ingredients contained in Horton’s products, but she didn’t.

While covering the Horton’s opening was newsworthy, what Hart did was not “news.” Her report appeared during what’s supposed to be a news show. But it was more appropriate for a program filled with feature content like “Show Me St. Louis,” the weekday, 10 a.m. offering on Channel 5. People often pay for their stories on “Show Me St. Louis,” and that fact is disclosed in a general way at the end of each show. “Show Me St. Louis” is a feature program not a newscast.

Channel 2 news managers have an opportunity for improvement among their reporters by comparing the two stories. Murphey showed how to do it right as a journalist. Hart showed how to do it wrong, making a commercial pitch during what’s supposed to be a newscast.

Dudman looks back at Pol Pot

Richard Dudman, the chief Washington Correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the 1970s, almost died in Cambodia – twice. Now, at age 97, he looks back at his reporting and says he may have been too easy on Pol Pot – the murderous dictator of Cambodia.

Dudman was captured in Cambodia while covering the war in 1970 and spent 40 days as a captive of Viet Cong. Five years later, after Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge took power, Pol Pot invited Dudman and two other Westerners to Cambodia to see for themselves what life was like. One was Elizabeth Becker, who had covered Cambodia for several years for The Washington Post. The other was Malcolm Caldwell, a radical Scottish lawyer. They were the first outsiders to get visas to Cambodia to interview Pol Pot.

Pol Pot wouldn’t answer questions during their session with him. But that night Dudman was awakened by gunshots outside their guest house. A Vietnamese terrorist threatened Becker, shot at Dudman, who hid under the bed, and then killed Caldwell.

Recently, a special Cambodian court organized to prosecute Khmer Rouge war crimes asked Dudman about his reporting from that era. A lawyer who was questioning Dudman said he seemed to have been easy on Pol Pot. Dudman said he just reported what he saw. But the lawyer’s question haunts him, he wrote in an op-ed in the Post-Dispatch.

Reporting in Cambodia required courage. But the hardest thing for a reporter to admit is he may have gotten a story wrong.

http://www.stltoday.com/news/opinion/pol-pot-and-i/article_94be6488-99f6-5670-8cd1-944a764e8447.html

St. Louis media notes

St. Louis TV stations need to be more honest with their viewers. Frequently, they present stories as new that are actually a day or more old. The latest example occurred on KSDK (Channel 5) at noon on June 18. The story was about an incident the day before when two planes began taking off at the same time at Midway Airport in Chicago. Fortunately, a collision was averted. One report said the planes were within 2000 feet (nearly four-tenths of a mile) when they stopped after aborting their takeoffs. But anchor Kay Quinn read, “We have new information at this noon hour about just how serious a near disaster this was.” However, she provided no information that hadn’t aired on the news the night before. Nor did she give any indication as to “how serious it was.” She did not even tell viewers how close of a call it was (or wasn’t). Repeating the story is not the problem. Every station repeats many stories because of all the time they have to fill. The problem comes when viewers are deceived by “sensationalistic” and inaccurate writing.

Channel 5 also needs to show better judgment when severe weather strikes. The station tends to preempt programming any time there is a tornado warning. Sometimes, even severe thunderstorm warnings preempt programming. Earlier in June, meteorologist Mike Roberts said on the air that only about 450 people were potentially impacted by a tornado warning far south of the metro St. Louis area. Yet the station stayed on the air live for more than a half hour. There is no reason for this. It was not even a confirmed tornado, just indicated as a “possible” tornado by Doppler radar. Putting the information at the bottom of the screen will suffice. If many people might be impacted by a tornado, it is appropriate to stay on the air. It has to be a case by case basis. Channel 5 has gone too far. Here’s an idea. Stream weather live to the Internet so that anyone potentially impacted can watch at KSDK.com or on their mobile app. Everyone else can watch the regularly scheduled programs while staying updated with the information at the bottom of the screen.

Good Clinton v. bad Clinton

Hillary's Southern AccentWriting about Marie Antoinette, Judith Thurman commented in a 2006 article in the New Yorker that the woman famous for a remark she never uttered (“Let them eat cake”) is “periodically reviled or celebrated.” The same could be said about the media’s treatment of Hillary Clinton since she stepped into the national limelight as Bill Clinton’s wife during his 1992 bid for the presidency.

Now that she is campaigning for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, many publications and websites devote much of their coverage to one or the other of these familiar approaches. Recent opinion pieces in the online publications of the liberal New Republic and the conservative Washington Free Beacon provide a sort of “comfort food,” the first for Clinton admirers and the second for Clinton detractors.

But neither provides much food for thought based on solid information, history and context.

“The Real Democratic Primary: Hillary Versus the Media” by Suzy Khimm was posted on the New Republic’s website on May 22. This headline suggests something new — that Hillary is running against the media more than the pack of potential Republican candidates. But in fact, Hillary’s relationship with the press is old news. Ken Auletta described her difficulties with the media in the New Yorker on June 2, 2014, observing that “the media can’t stop discussing her” and are “desperately casting about for something new.”

The “new” element in Khimm’s story includes interviews with 30-or-something-year-olds in Arlington Virginia, a Washington, D.C., suburb she labels “Hillaryland.” Her first interviewee is 29-year-old Beth Lilly, a policy lawyer who remembers the hullabaloo created by Clinton’s Marie Antoinette moment in 1992, when she said: “I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession.”

Lilly, who would have been about six years old in 1992, recalled that the coverage of the cookie escapade “was just so absurd.” In examining the questionable finances of the Clinton Foundation, Khimm also quotes Lilly as saying, “So her foundation took money. It’s kind of what foundations do.” Khimm could have suggested to Lilly that media coverage has focussed not on what foundations do, but on where some of the millions taken in by the Clinton Foundation came from and how they were doled out. (As in “Clinton Award Included Cash to Foundation,” the New York Times, May 30, or earlier, “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal,” in the same paper on April 23.)

When Khimm points out that Clinton’s young Arlington supporters view the media as “trying to drag her (Hillary) down,” she does not ask them for examples. Khimm does not tell her readers which dust-ups in Clintonian history qualify as “scandals” and which as “pseudo-scandals,” and none of the people she interviewed made the distinction for her.

According to Khimm, Clinton’s young supporters no longer blame Republicans or right-wing conservatives for the coverage she is receiving. It’s the media’s fault. One supporter says: “The media are bringing these allegations and these scandals up to see if anyone else in the Democratic party will emerge as a strong candidate and they can go head to head…That sells if you put that out, it sells. It’s them trying to tailor the election to their own needs, rather than what the election is.”

And that’s what the article is meant to reveal, that Clinton’s well-earned path to the White House is not impeded by those Republican bumps in the road, but by roadblocks put up by the media.

Khimm’s article is of, by and for Washington insiders, deeply divided, seeing the world with us v. them blinders. Khimm accepts Clinton’s climb as “the ultimate Washington success story,” never asking citizens in West Virginia or Kansas if that translates into a national success story for them.

A Clinton as Marie Antoinette piece was found in the Washington Free Beacon on May 22: “Miss Uncongenality,” by Matthew Continetti.

The headline tells you that mud is about to be tossed. “Congeniality” is the award the loser in the beauty contests receives, and Continetti is unwilling to tell his readers that Republican winners and losers in presidential campaigns often lacked the quality: Coolidge was taciturn, Ike was aloof, Nixon was resentful, and Dole was dour. Good candidates or presidents? Yes and no, but what has congeniality to do with it?

After the headline, most charges against Clinton are unsupported by facts. At a recent press conference, Continetti suggests, Clinton wanted to ward off questions by “raising her hand empress-like.” And how does an empress raise her hand in a manner different from commoners? Readers don’t know, but it sure sounds bad.

As does every comment about Clinton, without explaining the badness:

“Voting for the Iraq war was a ‘mistake,’ like the one you make on a test.” How does he know her ‘mistake’ (supporting the war in Iraq) was made the same way you make a mistake on a grammar quiz or misidentify a figure in European history? Was her mistake possibly made based on false or incomplete information or on misreading the political and cultural forces in the Middle East?

She released a “blizzard of Clintonian misdirection, omission, dodging, bogus sentimentality, false confidence, and aw-shucks populism.” It’s hard to swallow Continetti’s mind-reading verbiage. Perhaps she was confident (say about her role in the Benghazi attack). What’s “aw-shucks” about her or anyone else’s populism in our current age of greed?

Readers will not be surprised to find the article riddled with “may” and “might” phrases, suggesting the author wants them to assume: “may not work,” or “may begin to change” or “may be the wrong choice.”

Tealeaves reading is no substitute for information and insight-filled journalism.

In the next 17 months before the 2016 election, readers can expect a blizzard of articles such as the ones in the New Republic and the Washington Free Beacon. Long and fact-filled pieces in the New York Times and in other media could provide an antidote.

Magazine’s headline has Texans fighting mad

In almost three decades as a print journalist, I never called out a fellow headline writer for something he or she crafted to introduce a story.

Until now.

What I never did was write a headline so egregiously bad that readers threatened to yank their subscriptions over what I wrote.

Someone at Texas Monthly Magazine did, however. Here’s the headline:

“Blue Bellghazi Continues: Total Recall Issued for All Products Everywhere.”

The powers that be at Texas Monthly, which “has chronicled life in contemporary Texas since 1973,” according to its website, should never have allowed that headline to run. (As of April 22, it was still displayed on the magazine’s website. The Web link is www.texasmonthly.com/daily-post/blue-bellghazi-continues-total-recall-issued-all-products-everywhere)

There is no comparison between the recent bacterial contamination of Blue Bell’s products and the Sept. 11, 2012, terror attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

Texans (and I count myself as one, having been born and raised in the Lone Star State) knew and loved Blue Bell ice cream long before the Brenham, Texas-based company developed a national brand. On April 20, Blue Bell Creameries voluntarily recalled all of its products after contamination by the sometimes-deadly bacteria listeria killed three people in Kansas and made several others sick in Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Here’s a sampling of reader comments on Texas Monthly’s Facebook page about the headline:

  • “How dare you equate ice cream recall to Benghazi! Very poor taste.”
  • “That cute play on words is extremely disrespectful.”
  • “What a ghastly choice of words Texas Monthly chose. They should be ashamed.”
  • “You all stepped in it TM, didn’t you? Either poor taste or a Troll for an editor. Going after BBQ, High School Football, or the Texas Flag next? Morons.”
  • “Bellghazi? Up yours, worthless rag.”

Here’s my response: “That is, without a doubt, one of the worst headlines I have ever had the displeasure of reading in my 28-year career as a print journalist. There are some lines you just don’t cross – and your cutesy headline writer jumped WAY over it. That employee (I won’t honor that person with the title ‘journalist’) needs to be canned or resign in disgrace. Immediately.”

While that may sound harsh, it pales in comparison to what one of my old managing editors in Wichita Falls, Texas, would have said to me had I turned in that headline. I have no doubt that this will cost the magazine subscribers – and probably advertisers as well. Both are unforgivable sins for a headline that really wasn’t that good to begin with.

The bottom line is that I understand how important it is to “hook” readers so they’ll read the stories. I’ve worked on newspaper copy desks in Arizona, Indiana and Texas, and because of that experience I am intimately familiar with the “read all about it” pressure that headline writers face. I’ve also written countless dozens of headlines when I was managing editor for Gateway Journalism Review. Writers get hundreds, sometimes thousands, of words to tell their stories. My job as a headline writer was to tell readers what the story is about in 10 words or less – and make it interesting enough to make them read it.

Sometimes I knocked it out of the park with my clever wordplay. Other nights my work was best suited to wrap fish. That’s the nature of the beast when you’re working on deadline.

This one isn’t even fit for that.

Texas Monthly readers deserve better.